The American tradition of spending the last Thursday of every November eating and drinking insane amounts of food and drink and then wake up at the crack of dawn the next day to wait in line with hordes of people to buy flat screen TVs for half or one-quarter of the price, with the possibility of losing a limb in the process, is always beyond me.
How a holiday which celebrates being thankful but then going out the next day spending obscene amounts of money on things we don’t even need but just want is beyond my comprehension. To add to the absurdity, the whole of the American economy, the predictor of the American business cycle wholly depends on how much money people (mostly middle and low income people) spend on crap they don’t need. You have economists, the Federal Reserve Chairman, pundits, experts, the President of the United States sitting in their offices the following Monday morning, waiting with baited breath, for the results and numbers of the spending reports from the prior weekend. The numbers are then sliced and dissected every which way to make the not-so-good data look better and the good data to look even better. This one single weekend of how much crap people buy with money they most likely don’t have and will spend the next year paying it off will determine the health of the American economy.
Thanksgiving was never that big of a deal in our household. My mother being Chinese, our Chinese New Year celebrations exceed Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations combined, especially in the food department. But there are two things we do not do during Chinese New Year. First, we do not eat turkey, to Chinese and most Asians, turkey is a stiff old bird that is impossible to cook. There’s no way to make that big old bird taste good unless you cook it in bacon grease. I only like the legs but when you go to someone’s home for Thanksgiving celebration, it’s rather poor form to call dibs on a leg, since there’s only two. Second, we do not go shopping on Chinese New Year. Most stores are closed and there’s no post Chinese New Year sale where everything is 50% off or more.
There is nothing better than Chinese New Year food. Nothing. I don’t care what anyone says. Every family has their own traditions, depending on the region they come from. Our table is filled with chicken, pork (my grandmother was especially well known for her chicken wings and pork chops), beef, seafood, and traditional Chinese New Year food like nian-gao (年糕）, a pastry-like food made from rice flour and sugar. Chinese New Year celebration begins on New Year’s Eve (on the Lunar Calendar) and continues for the next 7-10 days. In China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Chinese New Year is a national holiday where people get minimum of one week off (paid) and depending on the employer, one may get up to one month off. Even factory workers in China get this paid holiday, usually with bonuses.
Chinese New Year besides being a pig-out fest, just like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for children, there’s an added bonus, we get red envelopes of money from our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. My cousins and I, at the end of the night would lay out all of our red envelopes and then count how much money we got. I don’t know about them but I was never allowed to spend my money right away, the envelopes were then duly returned back to my mom for safekeeping and I was only allowed to spend the money when I earned the privilege to, such as getting good grades or coming in at the top of my class.
Chinese New Year is not a holiday for shopping, in fact, it’s the opposite. Chinese New Year is the time you spend with your family. Factory workers who live thousands of miles from home return home during this holiday to see their families, and shopping is rarely on the agenda. It’s a time for self-reflection, you let bygones be bygones, you become a better person for the new year. During Chinese New Year (a stretch of at least 10 days), my grandmother forbade us from speaking ill of others, forbade us from getting into arguments with people, especially not with each other. Arguments from the previous year is to be forgotten and forgiven and we start the new year with a clean slate. Or if the argument is too serious for immediate forgiveness, it’s to be put on ice until Chinese New Year is over and everyone is back at work, and hopefully by then it’s blown over. It’s a time for good tidings and happy returns, not pettiness.
With the death of my Chinese grandparents, sadly, we’ve not kept up these traditions. They were the glue of our family. After they passed the walls caused by disagreements and past wrongs crept up again and they remain there to this day. Since I got married and I had children, we’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner exactly four times, but never with a turkey. We prefered ham and chicken. Though we had guests who enjoyed turkey, I didn’t want to be stuck with a huge amount of leftovers, especially as I don’t enjoy eating it. I don’t want eat turkey sandwiches or soups for a week. The thought of that is quite terrifying.
I suppose I am not a natural host or a Martha Stewart. Putting on these events always stressed me out to no end, the endless work and preparations, most of which are done on my own in my small and inadequate kitchen. I always thought when I have my own house and my own family, I want to do these ‘traditional’ things and create memories. I want to be that idyllic family where I make a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal and everyone has a jolly good time. I never realized how much work was involved in throwing these things together and I realized I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. I was doing it to fulfil this false sense of what a normal and functioning family should do. For some people, throwing dinner parties like these is like second nature to them. I have a friend who has a smaller kitchen than I, but she’s able to put together an amazing Thanksgiving table each year, in her small house from her tiny galley kitchen. She loves doing it, it doesn’t stress her out and leave her anxious. In fact, she can pull a dinner party together any day of the week. I admire that, but that’s not me.
So this year, we did NOTHING but be thankful and grateful. I slept in with my kids as I didn’t have a big meal to prepare. We woke up, I went and made them some hot chocolate with lots of whip cream on top, a favorite of my daughter’s, she was in chocolate heaven. I made some brownies last night and we tucked into that for ‘breakfast’. Then we went out about our day as though it was like any other day, most importantly, I was relaxed and truly had time to reflect upon the blessings in my life and feel grateful and thankful for everything I have. I was not buzzing around trying to prepare this huge meal, while trying to make sure nothing gets burned and my children stay away from the kitchen and the hot burning stoves (whoever said an open floor plan is the it thing in real estate will get a very stern talking to from me).
The relaxing scenes in movies where people are drinking their wine and cooking and chatting with their family and friends while this huge meal sort of comes together in time has never been a reality for me. So, this year, I forewent all that and just went about my day normally, and it’s the best Thanksgiving yet. I have the time and emotional reserves to feel happy and grateful for all the blessings in my life. I don’t need a table full of food to realize this.
Happy Thanksgiving and many blessings to you to all.